NY backs Common Core but wants waiver for disabled

NY backs Common Core but wants waiver for disabled

(N.Y.) In a move being closely watched by educators and policy makers across the country, New York’s Board of Regents has not only given ground on an aggressive transition to the Common Core standards but it also wants to back pedal on higher assessment benchmarks for students with severe disabilities.

The regents, elected by the Legislature to five year terms, had been under intense pressure to acquiesce for at least two years on using test scores based on the new standards in the evaluation of teachers and student-placement decisions.

But Tuesday, the board voted to adopt a list of 19 changes to the state’s Common Core transition program – a mix of ideas intended to keep progress moving while calming parents and school officials worried that state is moving too fast.

Key changes include giving students until 2022 to hit minimum scores for a high school diploma and allowing teachers the ability to challenge poor performance ratings based on how much training they received in the Common Core content.

But simmering on a separate front is a growing number of critics from the disabled community over the board’s decision to also seek permission from the U.S. Department of Education to allow students with severe disabilities to be tested at their instructional level rather than their chronological age level.

The request is part of a waiver renewal the state is seeking from requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

“This proposal violates the rights of students with disabilities, conflicts with the principles established by the U.S. Dept. of Education regarding waiving some provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act due to the inaction of Congress to update the law, and could create an incentive to inappropriately put students into special education,” said editors of the Our Kids Count blog, which is published by the Advocacy Institute, a non-profit that lobbies on behalf of people with disabilities.

State officials have said that it would not be fair to test students with significant disabilities until New York has developed and implemented a fully adaptive assessment system.

“When students with disabilities are required to participate in an assessment at their chronological age significantly misaligned with content learned at their instructional level, the assessment may not provide as much instructionally actionable information on student performance or foster the most prudent instructional decisions,” officials from the New York Department of Education argued in a staff report. “For these students, state assessments do not provide meaningful measures of growth for purposes of teacher and leader evaluations.”

Based on comments just last month from Deborah Delisle, a senior deputy of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the testing request from New York is not likely to be approved.

Delisle said although she could not comment on the New York proposal, the department is committed to ensuring that all students “have access to high quality standards and high quality curriculum.”

Duncan announced last summer his intention to end a long-standing and controversial practice allowing states to use scoring on modified assessments for students with disabilities, with the exception of those with severe cognitive impairments, as part of their overall performance calculation.

The so-called “two-percent” rule permits states to develop alternative testing for special education students and use some of those results for accountability purposes under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Currently, the maximum number that states can count toward their proficiency benchmark is 2 percent of students in the grades assessed using modified academic achievement standards along with 1 percent of who are proficient on an alternate test designed for those who are significantly intellectually delayed

Duncan indicated that he would do away with the rule as schools transition to the new Common Core standards by the 2014-15 school year.

That said, however, there are politics at play to consider as well.

Although the Common Core State Standards were developed by an association of state governors, the Obama administration has been their biggest supporter – so much so that it has been dubbed Obama Core by the president’s detractors.

Those political opponents have found alliance with stakeholders that have real concerns over the cost of transition in terms of dollars and stress on the public school system.

With the fall elections pending, the Common Core has become a serious campaign issue in several gubernatorial races where the outcome could further erode support for the nationalized standards.

Given the stakes, While House officials might be interested in shoring up the New York Regents given that the board’s action this week – in the face of a lot of political pressure from legislative leaders and the state’s powerful teacher’s union – mostly reaffirmed its commitment to the Common Core.

In fact, Duncan in a statement on Monday complimented the leadership of the state board for “working to find a balance that supports educators through the crucial work of raising expectations, with a sense of urgency to serve all students.”

If so, other states that are also still committed to the Common Core might look for similar relief.

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